More and more folks have been sending me messages asking about how to “get the most out” or “take advantage” of their newly-minted Gigabit Internet or even Gig+ broadband connection — one that can deliver 1000Mbps or faster download speed.
I myself have been using a 900Mbps down/18Mbps up cable connection plan for almost a year. And for years, I have had some business partners with Gigabit and even Multi-Gig Internet.
So when I say I know how it feels to have a super-fast broadband connection, I speak from experience.
That said, I’ll answer all of your questions and Gigabit-class broadband concerns in this post. But first, let’s get one thing clear: Though there are Gig+ or Multi-Gig connections, in the end, Gigabit is the most important milestone.
Dong’s note: I first published this piece on April 4, 2020, and updated it on July 5, 2021, to add additional relevant information.
Gigabit Internet: Why you likely won’t experience it in full
The most common questions I got are along the lines of “I only get this much speed on my laptop and that much on my iPad. What is up?”
Let me break it to you right away. Just because you have super-fast Internet doesn’t mean you’ll experience Gigabit broadband on every or even any device.
In fact, that’s almost always the case. There are more reasons why you won’t than otherwise. Here are some of them.
Gigabit is the baseline
First, that’s because Gigabit is the baseline of your home network infrastructure. Specifically, chances are your networking equipment — be it your router, your switches, your modem, and so on — caps at 1Gbps.
If even all of your devices are capable of handling Gig+ or Multi-Gig — very unlikely — all it takes is one Gigabit switch in the network to make 1Gbps the ceiling speed of your home infrastructure.
And in some cases, if you happen to have that old Fast Ethernet switch (or router), your speed will be limited to 100Mbps no matter how fast your end-devices are.
That’s because the speed of a connection is always that of the slowest party involved. Keep this in mind.
When Gigabit is the ceiling speed, you can’t expect it to be the actual speed. That’s the same as you can’t ride at the top speed of your Tesla at all times — even if you don’t care about speed limits.
Even though a wired connection tends to have little overhead, it doesn’t deliver 100 percent efficiency. So a 1Gbps wired connection generally sustains at somewhere between 800 Mbps to 950 Mbps.
As a result, you need to wait till all of your equipment support Multi-Gig (2Gbps or faster) wired speeds to have actual Gigabit Internet locally.
By the way, Gig+ — that’s the speed between 1Gbps and 2Gbps — generally applies only to WAN (Internet) or Wi-Fi.
Bandwidth is shared
Secondly, even when your provider delivers, the broadband speed is only accurate at the terminal device, such as a cable modem or Fiberoptic ONT — the point where the Internet enters the property.
Right after that, your home router shares the connection between all devices in your home.
So, say, if you have two devices doing two file downloading jobs, then each only gets half of the broadband bandwidth. And the more clients are actively at the same time, the lower the number at each of them.
That’s why if you want to know how fast your connection truly is, there’s quite a bit of work to figure it out. In any case, you’ll note that your test scores tend to vary from one test to another.
Most of the Internet itself is sub-Gigabit
Next, you should consider that the broadband speed you pay for is between your home and the provider. And just because you’re lucky doesn’t mean the rest of the world is, too.
So, for example, when you access a service or website with a sub-Gigabit connection or send a file directly to your friend, who lives in a different city, the speed between the two of you will be that of the slower party.
But let’s say that you and your friend both have super-fast Internets, the connection between the two of you will still be much slower — most of the parties in between you two are sub-Gigabit.
That’s the case with any network connection. Again, the cap connection speed between a pair is always that of the slowest party involved.
In other words, just because you and your friend both have super large driveways doesn’t mean you can drive your car at its top speed to their home.
So when you do a speed test and happen to use a slow test server, you’ll get a slower than expected result — almost anyone can set up a test server these days.
The point is you can truly enjoy Gigabit-class broadband only when Gigabit is true in the entire Internet as a whole, or at least the part you use. And that will take a while.
Your Wi-Fi is no Gigabit
Again, the top-connection-speed-is-that-of-the-slowest-party notion applies to both WAN (Internet) and LAN (your home) sides. And more likely than not, your local Wi-Fi’s sustained rate is slower than 1Gbps.
That’s because Wi-Fi has crazy overhead. A negotiated (ceiling) speed of 1.2Gbps (2×2 Wi-Fi 6 at 80MHz) generally averages about 600Mbps of actual throughput at 40 feet (12 m) distance.
And though you sure can get a souped-up router, keep in mind that most mobile devices have a 2×2 Wi-Fi 5 adapter, of which the theoretical speed caps at 867Mbps. That’s sub-Gigabit from the get-go.
In short, chances are your current local sustained Wi-Fi speeds range between 200 Mbps to 800 Mbps at best. That’s fast, but no Gigabit.
You don’t need Gigabit Internet
Indeed, generally, we don’t need Gigabit Internet. Most online applications require much less bandwidth than 1Gbps to work correctly. And they won’t take more than what they need.
Take streaming, one of the most bandwidth taxing tasks, for example. You probably only use 30 Mbps at most per a 4K stream; even an 8K streaming needs no more than 100Mbps — that’s one-tenth of Gigabit. So faster Internet doesn’t yield any difference.
There are very few applications in which the faster is better. In my experience, file downloading is about the only one.
But even then, how often do you need to get a ton of data at once? That’s not to mention most ISPs put a monthly data cap on your plan — that of Comcast is 1.25TB.
But let’s say you need to download a few gigabytes, that’s a full-featured 4K movie, at a time, that’d take around 30 seconds over a Gigabit connection. Even at half the speed, I’m sure you can find a few things to do while waiting, like taking a few deep breaths.
So, Gigabit-class Internet and super-faster Wi-Fi routers are overrated?
It’s always great to have super-fast connections. You can think of fast broadband as high water pressure in your home. You might not need a lot of water, but it’s nice to have all you need come in a short time — you get things done faster or better.
Also, chances are you don’t use the Internet alone. Even if you live alone, you likely have more than one device. The faster the speeds, be it locally or the Internet, the more devices connect simultaneously at their highest possible rates.
Again, take streaming as an example — a Gigabit connection will allow a few dozen devices to view 4K content from Netflix at a time. And that’s nice.
But it’s true that, unless you have a big family, faster connections don’t yield anything extra after a certain point. It’s now just a luxury.
What router or mesh system should I get if I have Gigabit Internet and want to get the most out of it at all times?
If you live in a small home and only need a single router, ensure it can handle the fastest possible Wi-Fi speed. So get a router that has 4×4 specs on a single band.
Better yet, consider a tri-band router. That’s because Wi-Fi bandwidth is shared, so the more bands a router has, the more concurrent clients it can handle without slowing down.
Also, consider a router that has built-in multi-Gigabit network ports. The Multi-Gig WAN port makes sure you get the full Gigabit (or Gig+) connection. And a Multi-Gig LAN port means you can add an ultra-high-speed device (like a Multi-Gig switch) to your network.
Again, it would help if you increased the home network’s infrastructure to multi-Gig before you can enjoy your Gigabit broadband in full.
On the other hand, if you have a large home and need a mesh Wi-Fi system, it’s a good idea to wire your house with network cables. That’s the only way to bring a fast data connection to every room. (Sometimes, messing with the MTU and Jumbo Frame settings helps, too.)
Then get a mesh system with high ceiling bandwidth. If running network cables is not possible, a tri-band system is a must. That said, definitely consider one of these Wi-Fi 6 systems.
So slower Wi-Fi is no good for Gigabit Internet?
Not necessary. As I mentioned above, you only need the Internet speed fast enough for the application at hand.
And almost all Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 routers are more than fast enough to deliver any online applications’ broadband needs.
That said, there’s no need to go overboard with the fastest router on the market. Get one that has enough bandwidth for everyone in your family.
How to figure out the needed Wi-Fi bandwidth
Here’s simple math in figuring out which router is good enough.
Take two-thirds of the total 5GHz bandwidth of a router, and that’s its ballpark sustained local speed. Divide that number by your family members to get an idea of how much bandwidth each will get when everyone is online at the same time.
For example, the Asus RT-AX86U has the top speed on the 5GHz band of 4800 Mbps, or 2400 Mbps if you’re conservative — most devices don’t use 160MHz.
Consequently, you can expect a sure sustained bandwidth of 1600 Mbps. So if you have four in your family, each will get an allotment of 400 Mbps.
That doesn’t mean all of you will connect at that speed or even close, but you’ll have an idea of everyone’s portion of your network’s capacity. Also, note that you can also use the router’s 2.4GHz for some extra bandwidth.
By the way, 400 Mbps is way more than anything you’d need for Internet access, so the RT-AX88U can easily handle a house of dozen or so members and still give everyone speedy access.
Note that this doesn’t mean each person will not use more than their bandwidth allotment. A heavy BitTorrent user in a home can hog all the bandwidth, no matter how fast your Internet is. But this is the case where you need the help of QoS.
How fast is your broadband compared with others on Dong Knows Tech?
So how fast is your broadband on your device right now? Take a quick test below.
If your numbers aren’t anywhere close to Gigabit, you’re not alone. Below are the average speeds of those taking this same test in the past couple of days from around the world.
While the numbers don’t represent the entire Internet, one thing is for sure: We’re still a long way to go before true Gigabit-class broadband.
Having Gigabit-class Internet access probably feels like you’ve moved up in the world. Enjoy it!
Keep in mind that if you don’t get the full speed on your specific device for one reason or another, that only means there’s more bandwidth left for others in your home.
Like a race car, a fast broadband connection gives you more options. In reality, as long as you’re already moving at the rate you need, the actual speed numbers don’t matter much.
I’ve been uploading all of what you’re reading here on this website via a 19Mbps or slower connection. And I sure won’t be any more productive just because my Internet gets faster.
There’s only so much a fast connection can contribute. It’s always what you do with it and with your time that matters.